Friday, January 09, 2015

Why Do We Tip?

Often people believe that we tip servers in order to get excellent service. 

What exactly defines "good service" might seem up for debate, but I say it is not. And here are some of my reasons:

A good employer of a server understands that there is something intangible that occurs between a server and their customer. 

Although customers want efficient and timely service those aren't the only qualities a good server provides. Sometimes one can have a  server who isn't the greatest waiter or bartender at all, but provides that intangible chemistry with their humour or pleasant personality while getting you your orders. A customer needs to feel comfortable in a restaurant or bar especially when it comes to food and atmosphere. The more comfortable one's server is, the more comfortable the customer feels.

A person who owns or runs a restaurant, a club, or is a manger is usually paid by salary and therefore isn't taking a risk week by week in the same way a server takes a risk. A server literally does not know how much money they will make per week. They take a risk every shift. Yet, the secret to their success as a server lies in letting that risk go and being comfortable, sincerely friendly, and personable and efficient. If some degree of these energies is missing in the server....things begin to fall apart for the customer.

The server is there for the customer in a unique manner without being part of the profit of the business or organization. A manager, boss, or owner all have a degree of conflict of interest for the customer. Of course those roles want the best for the customer idealistically but mixed with the pressures of running a food and beverage establishment profitably there is a chance of those ideals being compromised.

Since a server is being paid primarily by a customer through the tipping format, the customer and server have a bond. Some of that bond is understandable, a decent server will guide a patron to avoid weaker menu items, will recommend items and set the tone of a comfortable interesting atmosphere while maintaining quality control.

How this is done by a server is the intangible part. And it's something that only some personalities can perform. Those of us who dine out and enjoy eating and drinking in a  public business know this is worth every dollar of our tipping.

The government and labour laws have forced employers to pay servers a cursory wage. That wage covers the labours of a server filling up salt and pepper shakers, getting their clothes cleaned, doing odd jobs directly related to table service...but the major employer of a server is the customer. And that gives keeps the business customer-friendly. Servers are "front-of'-the-house" workers which means they need their hair and clothing to be fresh and tidy and fairly well-put-together. They don't wash dishes or prepare food because they need to keep their appearance tidy and they handle money. Servers also need to be able to navigate potentially testy  co-workers and staff, and bosses who are worried about profit, while appearing calm and enjoying the social aspect of being in a  public space. Competent servers  work between the front of the house and the management/kitchen  maintaining a pleasant if not super-fun mood for the room.

Any experienced customer who has dined in a  restaurant where the owner or manager has spent too much time at a table visiting and trying to fawn on tables knows they are seeing someone sweat over the bills. A server can alleviate that kind of tension and allow an owner or management to keep watch of the ordering, cooking,  deliveries and bills without scaring off customers and work on the business. Some inexperienced owners, bosses and managers are not aware that they are often off-putting to the customers. Severs never tell the bosses that information, just like any multi-level business no one wants to criticize their administrations. The daily financial risk a server takes while being a source of care-giving is a truly intangible quality. 

Since food and beverages are so primal they trigger many inner feelings for all of us. Having a person we bond with as a server, who has nothing invested in the profit of a business while invested in the overall well-being of a business, helps us reconcile the unconscious positive and negative associations we have with food and community of a public space.

Any one of these factors, however intangible our relationships with servers may be, is worth the tipping. 

1 comment:

Eugene K said...

There have unfortunately been a couple high profile cases in the past couple years when the house has made the news after it was revealed they skim a percentage of the tips. These have been very well-known operators doing this, and they argued that their name is bringing in the customers and without the customers there are no tips. Seems to me these people are bottom feeders and I don't want to go to a restaurant where I know this is happening.

One additional comment... I think there are some smaller owner-operator restaurants in which the chef-owner makes a point of interacting with the customers. We used to go to one near our old place. He would recognize us and stop by to say hi, and occasionally bring us an after-dinner drink. In this case, I think it was the nature of the smaller operation.